Class acts as innovative building block for meaningful, healthy interaction

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Participants open up about feelings and relationships
Friday April 15, 2011 — Lisa Bailey

A class in which participants explore their emotions and relationships is an innovative way to help them develop and maintain meaningful and healthy interaction with others, says Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) outreach counsellor Cherry Sheena.

In her experience, “Simple Steps to Healthy Relationships” is unique. It launched late last year and brings together individuals supported by outreach who face such challenges as meeting people or maintaining key relationships in their lives.

Over the course of seven weeks, they meet as a group to share their feelings and experiences in an open, confidential, non-judgemental manner, as well as explore through discussion, activities and guest speakers such topics as assertiveness and workplace relationships.

Each session begins with breathing exercises, a tool that can be useful to overcome hurdles to engaging others such as stress and anxiety.

The next step is a “check-in,” enabling participants to share how they’re doing and help the rest of the group understand any relationship blockages they may have encountered.

Discussion is anchored on participation. Cherry, for example, says a session on reciprocity doesn’t begin with an explanation of what it is but asking the group for a definition, then getting feedback.

“A lot of times they’ll be right and people will learn within a group and add to whatever is said to the group. We really want to draw out people’s understanding and the benefit of sharing.”

Through the class, they learn from each other and find support, building confidence to establish healthy relationships.

“It gives people a platform to be honest about the feelings that they have and relationships that they have, and we’re very intentional about drawing out personal experiences from the individuals that attend,” Cherry says.

“I think a lot of people don’t have a chance to be honest with their feelings and the difficulties they might have in relationships, and I think these are really important pieces in the class, which is building self-esteem and hearing some really good things about themselves from their peers that they can take away with them.”

Confidence, Cherry says, is “an important building block (for the people accessing supports) of being able to start a relationship or meet someone or know that they themselves are important.”

Relationships are one focus of BACI’s outreach service, which supports people in developing skills to become more independent and lead meaningful, fully inclusive lives in the community.

Cherry says another BACI initiative important to fostering inclusion is an employment program with educational and practical components on how to obtain and maintain a job.

“I think that is excellent,” she says.

If you have a story to share or feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 25, or e-mail lisa(at)axiomnews.ca.

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